As a parent of a teenager, you’re probably well acquainted with stress. It creeps in when you and your teen are in conflict. You can feel it in the pit of your stomach, in your head, and between your eyes. Stress can keep you up at night, and anxious all day. According to recent medical studies, stress also:
- Fuels cancer in animal tests
- Shrinks the brain and lowers cognitive abilities
- Spurs the symptoms of depression
- Raises your risk of having a stroke
- Increases your risk of having a heart attack
- Damages your immune system, making you more prone to infections, colds, and chronic ailments
To avoid these potentially deadly side effects, it’s easy to think, “Well, I’ll just get rid of the things that are stressing me out.” But as parents, that would mean ignoring your kids, as well as much more. In my experience working with over 2500 teens who’ve come through the Heartlight counseling center, I’ve discovered we cannot erase stress. But we can learn to manage it.
Preparing For Stressful Situations
Raising a teenager will bring anxiety-inducing situations. There’s no way around that fact. But you can prepare for those moments by establishing strong relationships beforehand. The conflicts we face with teens usually revolve around changing a behavior or an attitude. And teenagers will not respond appropriately in those moments simply because of your parental authority or aggressive influence. Teens change because of relationships.
You see, when one of my kids gets out of line, and I’m forced to confront them about their actions, they don’t care that I’ve been doing ministry for over thirty years, or that I’m an author or speaker, or that I have a radio show. None of that matters during stressful confrontation. What matters to teens is the relationship. When they have a strong connection with me, they don’t want to risk destroying it. So dealing with parental stress before it happens starts with developing your relationship with your child.
It’s within the context of a healthy relationship that you can best communicate clear rules and boundaries for your teen. In fact, lay out the consequences of breaking those boundaries even before adolescence hits. When you hand your teenager a cell phone, state that you are entrusting them to use this tool wisely. No going over the minutes allotted. No inappropriate texts or pictures. If these rules are broken, then that cell phone is confiscated for a set period of time. In this way, when your daughter runs up a cell phone bill larger than the budget of many small countries, the stress of the situation will be reduced. Both you and your daughter understand that a clearly stated rule was broken and certain consequences must naturally follow. If you don’t have a relationship beforehand, or you erect boundaries in the moment, it will only add to the stress and anxiety of dealing with your teen.
During Stressful Situations
Imagine one night your son comes home way past curfew with alcohol on his breath. Your stress naturally begins to build as you think about your underage son drinking, or driving home drunk, wondering where he was, or what he was doing while inebriated. You might get an ulcer just thinking about it!
But Mom and Dad—in those moments when you feel anxiety building, take a step back and breathe! I know you want to let your son know what he did was foolish and irresponsible, and that he probably won’t be leaving your house for the next decade. But hold off. Sometimes in stressful situations like this it’s best to let kids go to bed, and come back to the issue when everyone has had time to cool down. In the heat of the moment, pressure grows, tempers flare, and the stress builds. Often by the next day, both you and your teen have had a chance to think about the situation, and what you both would like to say.
When you get back into the conversation, remember to listen to your teen. Ask, “What happened?” When we launch into a verbal tirade right off the bat, our response can make the problem even bigger. You might be surprised with the response you receive from your son or daughter. There have been times I’ve asked, “So what happened?” and I’ve received an immediate response; “I messed up and I’m sorry.” Give your teen a chance to explain. Of course, this doesn’t negate the consequences, but it allows your child to feel heard and understood and even take responsibility when they’ve blown it. This definitely brings the stress level down for both of you.
When you’ve had time to cool down and you start to discuss the situation and its consequences, remember to be gentle. Maybe you feel like scrubbing that tattoo right off their arm, or banishing them to their room for a year. Instead, Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Even in the moments that cause the most stress, remember to use gentleness and compassion with your teen.
After Stressful Situations
After the stressful situation is behind you and your teen, remember to always circle back around to him or her. If you’ve taken the car keys from your daughter for a week, offer to drive her to the movies on the weekend. If your son is grounded to the house, bring home a special dinner one night to share. Affirm the value of the relationship, and let them know that you’re not carrying a grudge against them. That will clear the entire house of any lingering effects of stress.
Growing up, I enjoyed working on cars. I got to where I could completely take apart my Dodge Charger and put it back together again. But in order to do that, I needed the right tools. So by the time I was sixteen, I had amassed a wide assortment of Craftsmen tools. But then the cars changed. I can remember taking my tools down from the shelf and opening the hood of a European car, only to find everything in metric! So that meant getting a whole new set of tools! These lasted me a few more decades, until a few weeks back my wife Jan bought a new car and when I opened up its hood, a bunch of computer parts we’re staring at me! So back to the auto parts store I went, to buy even more tools (I’m not really complaining though). The point is, I had the skill to work on all these cars, but I needed a whole new set of tools to do the work. That’s because when things change, so do the tools you need.
As your teen gets older, you might have enough parenting skills, but you might need to swap tools to get the job done successfully. Can you imagine the stress of trying to work on a project with the wrong equipment? Sure you can pound a nail with a wrench, or saw through a board with a utility blade. But the job takes much longer and is ten times more frustrating. So to mitigate stress with your teen, adjust the tools you use. The same practices you used when kids were seven won’t be effective now that they are seventeen. Evaluate the changes you can make as your child matures and grows.
I understand that parenting is stressful. I can point to each gray hair on my head and tell you which kid gave it to me! But stress doesn’t have to get the better of us. There are methods we can use before, during, and after conflict to reduce the amount of stress and leave both parties feeling at peace. So take these principles to heart, and replace those feelings of anxiety with feelings of peace.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas. For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website. It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Go to www.heartlightministries.org. Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173. Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.